“The future of AI is being built by a relatively few like-minded people within small insulated groups”
Amy Webb, The Big Nine.

Today I attended the a conference called SAS Analytics Day: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Symposium at University of Louisville. (Or as explained below, I attend part of the Conferance). This was a technical conferance for the most part; I grasped maybe 10% of what was discussed but I thought it would be worth the effort.
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Wilson Sonsini and its new tech ancillary business, SixFifty, may be ushering in a new wave for providing legal services and law firm marketing. The combination promises to provide automated legal services for more commodity type services under the Wilson Sonsini brand in hopes that it will generate more lucrative business for Wilson Sonsini later.

Background

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I often get asked by lawyers: what legal tech should I purchase and, relatedly, how in the hell can I know what I need to know about tech and keep up with it. It’s an ongoing source of frustration: lawyers constantly hear they need to be tech savvy but are clueless how to get there.

That’s why I really like a new book by Sharon Nelson, John Simek and Michael Maschke entitled Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide. I’ve known Sharon and John for several years through the ABA’s Law Practice Division and admire and respect their knowledge about legal tech and process, so I was excited to see that they put their knowledge on paper for all to access.


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I was fortunate enough to be invited to and attend last week’s Solid West Summit on Legal Innovation and Disruption in San Francisco. The Solid conferences are the brainchild of David Cowen, who runs the Cowen Group, a legal recruitment, professional development and thought leadership agency. The Summit describes itself as a “TED Talk style summit focused on innovation and the business of law”. David holds Solid Summits at various national and international locations throughout the year.

The Summit Format

The conferences are by invite only and Dave routinely draws some of the top thinkers in the legal tech and innovation space including Chief Innovation Officers from some the country’s largest firms, practicing lawyers, leading product and service providers and thought leaders. Primarily– although not exclusively– geared toward larger business and commercial firms, it’s one of those conferences that you leave tired, stimulated and a little intimidated by the smarts of the people you hear from.
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Thomson Reuters today announced a new legal workflow solution that it claims will enable firms to better plan, manage and execute legal matters with enhanced data and data analytics. A cloud-based system, Thomson Reuters PanoramicTM is built on TR’s Practical Law’s legal guidance platform and its 3E financial management system to better connect the front office of a law firm—where the legal work is handled—to the back office—where law firm financials are monitored and analyzed.

TR says Panoramic is specifically directed toward large and mid sized firms although it’s primary beneficiaries in my opinion may turn out to be the more innovative mid size firms (the AmLaw firms in the 100-200 range) who lack the resources and systems of some of the very large firms. As I have previously noted, it is, in fact, these mid size firms that will be most under threat in today’s changing legal marketplace. But because of their generally reduced cost structures and overhead, some of these firms, those that choose to distinguish themselves in the market, also have a big upside potential. And tools like Panoramic, if vigorously adopted (which is an if, as discussed below), could enable this capitalization.
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I have written before about the Big 4 accounting firms and the threat that these firms may pose for U.S. lawyers and law firms.

The response has typically been a bit like that of the first two pigs in the old 3 Little Pigs nursery rhyme who arrogantly believed their houses of straw and twigs would protect them from the Big Bad Wolf. Going into last week’s Legalweek in New York, several legal pundits (and lawyers) made it a point to tell me Big 4 encroachment on U.S. legal can’t happen. That Sarbanes-Oxley won’t allow it. That the Big 4 don’t make enough profits to do it. That they can’t do what U.S. law firms and lawyers do. That the Big 4 isn’t at all interested in the U.S. market. That they certainly have no business or strategic plans pointed in our direction. I was starting to conclude they were right.
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Legalweek is one of the preeminent legal tech shows. For years it primarily was directed to the ediscovery community; while there is still a heavy emphasis on ediscovery, the Show has branched out signigificaly in recent years. Put on by the legal media Goliath, ALM, it occupies 4 full days of programming,  mammoth exhibit halls and, of course, numerous vendor parties.

As it began to wind down on cold Thursday afternoon, I took a break and sat down in the Plaza Hotel lobby bar to reflect. The Plaza of course is a grand dame of New York hotels featured in movies as diverse as North by Northwest and Home Alone 2. It’s a great place to sit, reflect, people watch, have a glass of wine and write.
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Roy Storm of ALM broke the news early this week that Casey Flaherty, owner of the consulting firm Procertas and former GC of Kia along with legal pundit Jae Um will join the legal bemouth, Baker McKenzie. They will join recently added David Cambria, affectionately called the “Godfather of legal operations,” in an effort, according to the firm, to  “reengineer the delivery of legal services.”

When I first heard the news, I was reminded of (and tweeted out) the question posed to Winston Churchill: “Sir, are you ready to meet your maker?” Sir Winston’s response: “Yes but is he ready to meet the likes of me?” And that’s the big question here.
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It’s not often I disagree with Joe Patrice, who frequently writes for Above the Law. For one thing, he’s a lot smarter than me. For another, he’s a better writer. In fact, about the only thing I have on Joe is several more years of wear and tear in the trenches. That doesn’t make me right but maybe gives me a different perspective.

Joe recently wrote an article the premise of which, and I paraphrase, was that automation and technology are depriving junior lawyers of the training and experience lawyers used to get when they began practicing.
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